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Should the NFL adopt a salary cap “amnesty” in the next CBA?

The “Alex Smith Rule”

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The current CBA has only two years left to run before fans, players and owners could be faced once again with embittered labor negotiations and work stoppages (which means lost games).

I wrote a title on an article shell about a month ago; that title read: What should the NFLPA be fighting for in the next CBA?

As I often do, I typed a few notes into the body of the story so I could remember what inspired me to want to write it, and I left the shell of the article to sit until I had time to write it. There was no hurry; it could be published anytime in the next year and a half, and, as a university teacher, I have a ton of time available in May, June and July.

Well, this weekend offers me a 5-day holiday as Thailand enjoys its traditional 3-day New Year celebration, called Songkran. I sat down to flesh out the article, but realized that some things had changed since I first sketched my notes for it. Chief among the changes is that two of the authors at OverTheCap have published a series of articles on this very topic — well-researched and well-written articles that don’t encompass all of the ideas I had sketched in my notes, but which dive much deeper than I had intended in the ideas they do cover. Of course, they also touch on some ideas that I hadn’t considered at all.

One of the thoughts that they put to paper that I hadn’t put into my notes is that of a “Salary Cap Amnesty”. I’ll let the OTC writers explain the concept:

While we are in favor of team’s facing consequences with the cap when it comes to decisions on contracts, there are scenarios where the sides would benefit from a potential “amnesty rule”. The amnesty rule would allow a team, under certain situations, to prevent the acceleration of any guaranteed or prorated (dead) money from hitting the salary cap.

What would those situations be? We think the main factor here is injury. You can call this the “Alex Smith rule” or even “Kam Chancellor rule”. Catastrophic injuries like this are unfortunate outcomes in a collision sport and at times completely unforeseen. Teams should not be penalized the way they are in these instances. For example, the Washington Redskins will need to account for over $50 million on their cap if they had decided to walk away and terminate Smith’s contract. In this example, Smith will count for over $40 million (in cap space) the next two seasons and it’s a big burden for the Redskins and prevents them from signing other players.

We propose a rule where if a player is deemed by an independent doctor to have suffered a football injury that will cause him to miss an entire season then the team would have the option of releasing the player (while still having to fulfill ALL contractually obligated cash guarantees) with the only dead money counting on the salary cap to be that years prorated bonus money and having no dead money accelerate onto the current year’s salary cap or onto any future salary cap the way a post June 1 would work.

In this example, the Redskins could walk away from Smith with a $5.4 million cap charge in 2019 and no charge in 2020, a massive savings for the team on the cap. Smith would still receive his $31 million in guaranteed (cash) salary but no longer have that or his future prorated money count on the cap.

The catch to this proposed amnesty clause is that it can only be used once, either every four seasons or during the duration of the entire CBA. We are not looking to create an environment where teams are creatively finding ways to get out of cap charges we just want to protect the teams in the event of extraordinary circumstances and give those teams the most ability to go back into the market and sign players. A limited use amnesty rule should do just that.

I had seen a “cap amnesty” idea floated in the comments section of Hogs Haven just days before I read this article, so OTC doesn’t have a monopoly on the concept, but I felt like Jason Fitzgerald and Vijay Natarajan did a good job of fleshing out the concept with enough detail to make it the sort of recommendation that could be meaningfully negotiated, written into a contract, and enforced with practical effect.

To recap the key elements of their proposal:

  • The amnesty would be triggered by a catastrophic injury, similar to the one suffered by Alex Smith (OTC also suggests that crimes committed by players be included).
  • The team would trigger the amnesty themselves, but to avoid its use as a “get out of jail free” card on a bad contract, there would be some limitations:

(i) an independent doctor has to examine the player and identify that his injury qualifies. This has a bit of the flavor of the independent neurologist that makes the call under the current concussion protocol. (I might expand this protection to 2 doctors, or perhaps a league panel of doctors to guard against roster & cap manipulation).

(ii) a team is limited to using the amnesty a maximum of once per 4-year period (or possibly once per decade). This has the feel of coaches having a limited number of red-flags to be thrown for replay challenges, or the maximum of 2 players allowed to return from IR in a season.

  • OTC recommends that the cap relief take the form of no accelerated dead cap charge. We’re lucky here that OTC used Alex Smith as the example, so no calculation is necessary. The article tells us that, under their proposed amnesty rule, the Redskins would have eaten the $5.4 charge for pro-rated bonus in 2018, but that the $52.6m dead cap hit that the Redskins have to deal with if they release Alex Smith now under the current CBA would disappear like a puff of smoke.
Note: The OTC article doesn’t discuss the impact of the well-publicized insurance policy that the Redskins have to protect against Alex Smith catastrophic injury. That wrinkle is beyond the scope of this article as well, so I will simply ignore it, as if it didn’t exist. This is a detail that can be dealt with in the collective bargaining process.

If this proposed amnesty had been in place under the current CBA, then, when the full extent of Alex Smith’s injury was realized and confirmed by independent doctor(s), then the Redskins front office could have “thrown a red flag” to initiate the amnesty. Smith would have counted $18.4m against the Redskins 2018 salary cap but Washington would have incurred no further cap charges from the contract. The Redskins would have cut him, paid him his guaranteed $71m (including the money paid prior to the injury), and walked away with Dan Snyder a bit cash poorer, but the team’s salary cap situation largely unimpacted.

The team, under the OTC proposal, at least, would have been unable to utilize the Amnesty provision again until 2023 or later.


Should the next Collective Bargaining Agreement have a "salary cap amnesty" provision similar to the one outlined by OverTheCap?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    (273 votes)
  • 4%
    (15 votes)
  • 19%
    The concept is okay, but the specific provisions should be different than the OTC recommendation
    (71 votes)
359 votes total Vote Now